With frost possibility ebbing, it’s time to pot up those plants
Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
We’re just about exactly on the mid-April average last frost date for our area. Killing frost possibilities wane exponentially with every passing day.
Hot-soil crops (i.e. beans, okra, zinnias) shouldn’t go in just yet, but we’re closer to the big seasonal planting efforts of other things than we once were. Among these is the planting up of summer outdoor pots.
Our pot population has grown over the years, despite every good intention to quench it. Every time I see a magazine article on containers and those delicious plant combinations by such artists as Rita Randolph of Jackson or Kathryn Newman of Galva, Ill., I fall for another pot or two and am faced with the expense, not to speak of the quandry, of planting it up.
Pot plant maintenance is actually, in some respects, less demanding than large ground beds. Most of your pots are going to be near at hand, on the patio or porch, so that a hose is easily reached and fertilizer just as easily applied. Plants in the ground do indeed dry out more slowly, but there are more of them and some of your borders will be a long distance from water and fertilizer and within grasp of devouring weeds.
Plant combinations for mixed pots are endless, and I am no authority on how to mix them. Suffice it to say, though, there’s nothing wrong with the old “thrillers, fillers and spillers” regime.
The thriller is a substantial plant (or plants) that lords it over other ingredients. In a large pot, a canna would be a good example. Then there are the fillers, intermediate plants (and there could be several in any one pot) that work in and under the thriller. Lastly, as the preacher says (it never is), come the spillers, the edge-breakers that spill over the pot rim and flow down its side.
Granted, a single huge geranium, a dwarf shrub or a mass of an ornamental grass can be an effective container subject with no other enhancement, but it is the combinations that reap the most ga-ga’s.
All pot plants do not have to be one-season wonders. I have come to pot many perennials that return from year to year, reducing the expenditure for the “premium annuals” that often set you back $4 or more. With several in a pot, that can run into money when only one growing season of enjoyment results. Actually it is less than that, since a good part of the season is taken up with attaining optimum size for some of those annuals.
A few of my pots have nothing but perennials in them, though most have an annual or two for added color. A good example is a pot at our front entrance that has a Regal Splendor hosta and blue lyme grass. The latter is overly aggressive in the ground, but safely contained in a pot, it stays at bay. The hosta is a blue-gray, matching the grass, but with a yellow edge on the leaves. It is large enough, to two feet tall, to stand over the grass, which weaves in and around it.
Most perennials suitable for pots will be mainly foliage plants, such as the combination just cited. The hosta blooms in late summer are a short-lived bonus. There are few perennial flowering plants that can compete in length of bloom with annuals.
Tropical plants usually thought of as house plants can be effective in summer pots in combination with grasses or colorful annuals. I ran across a pot of excellent red-leaved cordyline at a discount store back in February on sale at $3. There were three plants in the pot, all at least 18 inches tall. That figures to a buck apiece. They bided their time in a basement window until a couple of weeks ago, when I placed the pot in a protected place outside to toughen up the leaves.
I plan to slice the plants apart and put the three in different pots with other ingredients for a summer and fall show, then let frost have them. A dollar apiece is a fourth the price of a “premium” annual.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — I am of Scotch, Irish, Welsh and Dutch stock. Heavy on the Scotch.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.20.11
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path